Every Wednesday, Rabbi Yael Buechler prepares to teach Midrash, the Jewish tradition of Bible interpretation, to 19 middle school girls at a Jewish day school in Westchester, N.Y. While the subject matter and texts are ancient, the teaching method involves a more modern tool -- nail polish.
“I was inspired by my own social studies teacher in middle school who had seasoned themed nails," explains Rabbi Buechler, "By high school I was already making intricate nail designs; and by college I started my own business that would give manicures with Torah and Jewish Holiday inspired designs."
After college, she attended Jewish Theological Seminary in New York City and was later ordained as a rabbi in the Conservative Jewish tradition. In addition to her teaching position, the rabbi has her own religious nail painting company called MidrashManicures.
When asked how her manicure business is an extension of her rabbinic position Rabbi Buechler is effusive: “This is truly hands-on Judaism. The hope is to expose all people, Jewish and non-Jewish, to creative forms of Judaism through this nail art, so that they might be inspired to create other forms.”
An important part of Rabbi Buechler's approach to MidrashManicures is the opportunity for reflection. At the beginning of every Midrash class, Rabbi Buechler talks with her students about the Torah portion for the week and what important themes they find within the text.
“We are in the book of Genesis right now,” explains the rabbi, “and are looking at the passage when God asks Abraham to leave his homeland for a place where God will show him. It requires us to think about what it means to leave your home, and why God chose Abraham for the task -– the reflections by the students will inspire their nail designs.“
Like every good teacher, she stays one step ahead of her students. Rabbi Buechler does her own creative Midrash nail design the Sunday before, but she always refuses to show the students, insisting that they come up with their own interpretations, or Midrash, and design for their nails.
When asked about her favorite Midrash manicure design of all time, the rabbi hesitates. “It used to be the 10 plagues,” she explains, “But putting the days of creation on my nails was an incredibly spiritual experience -– we don’t know what creation actually looked like, so a nail design was an opportunity to put my creative stamp on the Genesis story. “